The true story of a spree of bank robberies that shook Sweden is finally told in a new book titled The Father…
Q: STEFAN, WHEN DID YOU FIGURE OUT THAT YOUR BROTHERS WERE BANK ROBBERS?
A: I was in my early twenties, studying at an art school in Stockholm in 1990.
I remember coming to my big brother’s place once, the TV was on in the living room reporting a robbery against an armored truck. The smell of sweat hit me and I could hear my brothers talking about robbing that truck at gun point. They talked about it like describing scenes in a movie. They had crossed a line together. I just sat there, listening, feeling left out. One of them took out a big empty fishbowl from a shelf and put all money in it and said, “A million in cash doesn’t take up as much space as you would think.”
None of my brothers ever told me “Stefan, you can’t talk about this”. They didn’t need to because between us that was crystal clear. That was how we were raised by our father, a man accustomed to using violence to get what he wanted. You never rat out your family.
Q: EVEN THOUGH YOU HADN’T MET YET IN 1991, YOU BOTH EXPERIENCED THE STOCKHOLM TRAIN STATION BOMBING THAT STEFAN’S BROTHERS PLANNED TO DISTRACT AUTHORITIES FROM A PLANNED BANK HEIST.
STEFAN: Yes, I was on my way home from art school one day, heading towards the Central Station in Stockholm, trying to catch the train to visit my older brother. All traffic was shut down. Police were stationed everywhere, keeping people from entering the trains and subway. I remember getting annoyed since apparently there was some nut-job who had planted a bomb inside a locker at the station. Police told me to walk to another station and from there take a bus home. I didn’t know that it was my brothers who had planted the bomb.
ANDERS: I was on location, reporting for Sweden’s largest TV news show, The Evening News. In those intense years, 1991-1993, Sweden was terrorized. We faced a new type of crime – a new type of criminal – that we had never seen before, were not prepared for, and now had to try to process and find new ways to defend against.
We called them “The Military Gang” because they planned these heists with military precision. They sowed terror in Sweden but they had no political motive.
We later learned they had hidden their stolen weapons, over 200 automatic rifles and handguns, in a secret space under their house. Their weapons cache was so large that they never had to use the same weapon twice.
After robbing an armed truck, post offices, and banks, the Military Gang choose to commit the first simultaneous bank robbery –robbing two banks, next to each other. After that they hit a triple, three banks in one robbery.
Their philosophy was that in one hundred and eighty seconds – regardless of how many banks being robbed – the risk that the police would get there in time was really the same. So why don’t do as many as you can? They were insane and ruthless but they proved themselves to be extremely ingenuous and inventive.
Q; HOW WERE THEY FINALLY CAUGHT?
STEFAN: On 23rd of December 1993, Christmas Eve, there was a news flash on TV that three bank robbers were being pursued by police through a raging blizzard. As I watched, I knew immediately that two of them were my eldest brother and my childhood friend – but slowly I realized that the third – reported to be an older man – had to be my father. After years of conflict and not speaking my father and brothers decided to commit a bank robbery together. It would be the last heist ever carried out by the Military Gang. They fled into a forest and, as the noose tightened, they hid, exhausted, in an abandoned summer cottage
After many hours in front of the TV, I fell asleep from exhaustion, knowing that my oldest brother would never give himself up. And my father, who so often during our childhood solved problems with violence, how would he act?
I woke up to a beautiful Christmas morning. The crisp, white snow covered everything. Only a few degrees below zero. A storybook morning. Maybe I had dreamt the whole thing? I went to the shop on the corner that was always open and saw the headlines. I hadn’t dreamt it.
They were taken alive. And since that day I have wondered, “What happened, really?”
And when I told Anders this story, we agreed that this would be the core of our novel. The confrontation between a father and his oldest son on that snowy Christmas surrounding by elite Swedish police in a summer cabin in a snowstorm.
Q: WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO BRING THIS CHAPTER OF HISTORY TO LIFE ALMOST 25 YEARS LATER?
ANDERS: It was very complicated. At one point in our writing, we felt we needed to see the full police file of the investigation. Luckily Stefan’s youngest brother had kept a copy of the files. We went over and rummaged through his basement. The files were all there – in a large, black, plastic garbage bag. So we brought them to my writer’s den at Reimersholme, a small island in the heart of Stockholm. When I carried that black garbage bag of files in my arms up the stairs to the fourth floor, it was like carrying a body, ungainly, heavy. When we got into the apartment, I sort of just poured the entire contents out, spread it all over the wooden floor. It was as if I had opened and freed the smell of a corpse that had been encapsulated for twenty years.
Q: STEFAN, DO YOU STILL HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR FAMILY?
STEFAN: My brothers and my father served their time and are all out of prison. My father passed away in September 2015, my brothers now have families and new lives as productive members of society.
That Anders and I wrote the book definitely affected the relationship between my brothers and me. Old family wounds came to light again, hurtful memories, conflicts.
One of them – Felix in the book – called me when he had read it and said ”Stefan, I hate you! But I love the damn book you`ve written.” Then he hung up. We didn`t talk to each other for nine months after that but today we finally have a good relationship.
My youngest brother – Vincent in the book –tried to see past our conflicts. He said, ”Maybe it was the book we needed to be able to move forward and see each other as individuals and not just brothers”. I think he is right.